Tapas Culture v Non-Tapas Culture
Ok, I accept that to you, the reader, I may be talking double Dutch, (especially if you are local to the South Wales area) but please bear with me, hang in there and open your mind to what I'm about to discuss.
Firstly, let's define 'exactly' what constitutes a 'tapa' and how it came about and what exactly is a 'tapas culture'.
The word 'tapa' is the Spanish word for 'cover'. A cover? Yes, a cover. Rumour has it that the King of Spain was travelling around his country, stopped at a bar for a drink and to stop flies from getting in his drink, the landlord put a piece of bread over the top of the glass, thereby creating a lid or cover. To make it more interesting other food was introduced to the top of the bread. The King thereby declared that from that point onwards, all drinks should be accompanied with a small piece of food to cover the drink...i.e. a tapa.
The 'tapas culture' derives its name from the fact that almost all bars offer a tapa/cover with every drink. Some tapas are entirely free, others incur a charge and it's only generally local knowledge that allows customers to understand where best to go for tapas and what the 'local' rules are for that particular area. For example: in some areas of Spain you have some bars always charging for every tapa and other always offer the first tapa free with the drink. You have a second drink you get a second tapa free. You want a third tapa but no drink, then you pay for the tapa. Tapas can cost as little as 1 euro...87p.
Tapas are generally eaten by locals as a pre-cursor to lunch or especially dinner. Locals stand at the bar and have their tubo cerveza/beer, or their vino tinto/red wine...devour their tapa and they are on to the next part of their day. Spaniards don't hang around in bars for long periods. In the evenings, the tapas is a pre-cursor to dinner and then the likelihood is that the customer will be dining in the bar's restaurant. The Spaniards are creatures of habit.
So What Are The Advantages Of A Tapas Culture Over The Food Culture Of The UK?
Despite what you experience or what is advertised as a 'tapas experience' in the UK, believe me, it's not! There are some that come relatively close but at the end of the day, no bar/tapas bar/or tapas restaurant in the UK is giving food away for no cost...including a small terracotta dish of olives...standard freebie in most Spanish bars. In fact, so called bastardised 'tapas establishments' in the UK are taking the piss. Indeed, you will notice that the use of the word 'tapas' has died out within the UK in recent times, because in the UK 'it doesn't pay to follow the exact same principle as in Spain'.
For a start there's a differential in costs, albeit everything is relative. What UK businesses have found is that even if they took the stance to charge for every tapa they produce, they couldn't sell enough tapas at a reasonable and acceptable price to make a living. They are worried too that the customer will only eat cheap or free tapas and not then dine in the restaurant. So, their approach is to produce their interpretation of a 'tapa+' in size call it a 'small plate' and charge the same as other restaurants are charging for a full dish. The contents of the dish may well be similar to Spanish cuisine but the portions are a little bigger and the cost much higher.
Where the tapas culture scores positively over the UK food culture is in what they can do to 'create new business'... which other non-tapas can't do..at least not so readily and easily.
Firstly, towns and cities all over Spain have established 'rutas' - routes//tour - whereby tourists and for that matter locals can go from one tapas bar to the next partaking in different tapas. This has become such big business now that some bars will sell (yes that's right they sell these tapas) as many as 1600 tapas a day during an annual competitive event. The rutas also allow the food guides to organise formal tours within the city/town to their preferred tapas bars and other dining destinations. (Indeed, I used to conduct these rutas myself - and I even had visitors from Swansea fly in especially to attend a tour, as a gift for a husband's birthday!). Rutas bring new tourism blood to the area and helps boost the economy. Not only that, rutas open up the dining industry to showcase what is on offer. Instead of attending a couple of eateries over say a weekend, visitors would go on a ruta and attend maybe 10 or 12 establishments...choosing to stop and dine in a couple en route.
Rutas Aren't The Only Novel Concept.
I was approached by the owner of a new tapas bar/restaurant. He was from outside the area and due to the parochial nature of the locals and expats, he was struggling to attract customers. He was located 50 metres from an local Spanish bar/restaurant which had dominated the area for 30 plus years...and surrounded by other dining establishments ...beachbars, British bars etc. I persuaded the owner of the new bar to throw open a tapas dual/challenge to the owner of the long established bar...i.e. who could produce the best tapas...over Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes. It was a serious enough challenge with a very light-hearted event on everyone's part. The challenge was advertised through the resort and each bar had between 90 - 112 visitors each day... the winning wasn't important - the event brought the community together, cause a hugely positive stir within the resort but more so helped kickstart the new bar's business.
What made these events, i.e. the rutas and the dual, so successful and well supported is that because these were tapas on offer, with a drink, they were affordable, and we knew that the public would support the events each day. Here in the UK, similar tapas with drinks that would cost me 5 euros in Spain can cost me as much as £28.00 to £33.00 in the UK. Is there a UK equivalent to the rutas or tapas dual challenge? None that I have found. Can one kickstart a new business in this way in the UK? I doubt it. Would the UK benefit from a 'tapas ruta' or 'tapas dual' concept even if only once a year? Undoubtedly, but all participants would have to buy into a different food cultural mind set in order to make this work...and I doubt if there would be an appetite for such.
The big question here is: "What are you prepared to do to get customers through your door and how can the local food culture here in Swansea and West Wales attract foodie tourists?"